The other day, I was regaling a friend with a story about an unfortunate family interaction with members of the church recently. (We had found it fairly amusing, given that we assumed they weren’t trying to make sure that the family stayed away). After I wrapped it up I commented,  “you know what? These guys have no idea what they are even doing wrong.  Why people are leaving in droves. They put so much energy into getting them and then they lose them.  And they don’t seem to get it at all. I almost want to help them. Like, as a consultant. You know like how security companies interview burglers to improve their systems?”  I warmed to my topic…

“I could be EX-Mormon Girl. I could go around the country training LDS leaders.”

I was only half joking. “our stake president is actually a really cool guy, I bet he would let me get experience speaking to our stake for free”.

“No” said my friend.  He knew I was mostly kidding but….”Don’t do that. They are looking for a type. And you ain’t it.”

Yeah. Good point. Ok I guess I will have to come up with another brilliant plan. But I think this conveys how complicated leaving this faith can be. How conflicted it is. How confusing it is.

Here’s the thing. The Mormons have been extraordinarily good to us.I have talked about it often on this very blog. Some of the people I most love in the world are active Mormons. They are good people. And there are some cool things about the Mormon church. I’m a confident public speaker in no small part due to them, I can conduct music in a rudimentary way. I’ve been in plenty of leadership positions even as a stay at home mom. When we moved to places where we knew nobody and had no family, we could always count on the church network. We always tended to gravitate to having more friends outside of the church than in it but everywhere we lived we have found a least one or two families to become close to and those relationships have been precious. Our children were given a great sense of intergenerational family thanks to the church, and the many kind and loving teachers and leaders they have had in it.  And the church has helped us out tremendously in financial ways over a long period of unemployment and at another time when we were struggling very badly.  In addition we have received a lot of service from members of the church.  We have been beneficiaries of great good from the Mormon church. There is no escaping  the truth of that and I would never want to downplay or deny those things which were absolutely saving graces at the time.

None of this is simple. Being a Mormon is difficult. Leaving the faith is very difficult. Life after leaving the faith is lonely and full of conflict. It’s all just…difficult. But then it gets less and less so. In that regard anyway. Leaving the Mormon faith is a decision I am more grateful for every day.  The Mormons warned me it would be though. They covered this contingency. “Little by little the Spirit will cease to strive with you, your heart will be hardened, Satan will have you in his grasp.” And so still. To this day. I find myself second guessing my decision. There is a little part of me which probably always will. And everyone will have their opinion on why that is. The Mormons will say that my soul knows the church to be true and the Spirit is striving with me. My brain will say that the Mormons are very sophisticated in their brainwashing. I really believe that to be true.

“People can leave the church but they can’t leave it alone” One of those catch phrases much beloved of Mormons.  The truth is that they set it up that way.  From the earliest ages you are taught to doubt your instincts if they are “leading you astray” or “causing you to doubt what you know to be true.” Doctrinally they talk a really good game about examining your faith. “search, ponder and pray” is preached and sung about and urged. But there’s a catch. Search, ponder, pray..but if those measures turn up short, and you don’t find yourself embracing the faith, that’s on you.  You are wrong.You did it wrong. Keep trying.  Sort yourself out. Figure out why. That’s the only option available to you.

There is this one “General Authority” (are you noting the weird lingo? This stuff never even struck me as off until very recently) who every Mormon I’ve ever talked to really digs. He’s cool. He’s chill. He’s handsome. Ex-pilot. Cool accent. They call him  “The Silver Fox”. As an aside, the bar is set suuuuuper low for these dudes in terms of charisma.  Poor sweet Mormons. Shit, that comes across so condescending and yeah, I guess it is. It’s just that they ask for so little from these old guys. Everyone is so eager to laugh at the tiniest bit of levity. (That always did strike me as off. I remember rolling my eyes even as a young kid when one of the General Authorities would do something like pause, or raise eyebrows or make a vocal inflection that indicated he wasn’t quite as serious as usual, and people would eagerly roar with laughter. It wasn’t even funny you guys. And I found it sad. On that level I always knew what was up and I found it really demeaning.One could say it was a warning bell for me. When people are giving other people that much power that they will laugh at their unfunnies…something is off. I was growing up in an environment with an unhealthy power deferential and I was attuned to it.

 Anyway, so this guy is incredibly popular for the reasons I listed above but also because he generally preaches actual Christian tenets. Like loving and not judging and being accepting of where people are on their journey.  He might be the only reason some Mormons hang in there. He imparts many beautiful quotable quotes, Many gems. Yet still,  I would venture to say that his most pinterested quote is…waiiiit for it.

“Doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith.”

How about this. How about faith and doubt coexisting?

I know some highly intellectual Mormons. People who are more brilliant and more intellectually curious and more logical than I am or can ever hope to be. They are Mormons on their own terms. They sort through all this shit and make it work for them. I don’t know how they do it but I believe that they do and more power to them. I think most of them figure out a version of Mormonism that they can handle and stay “active” for the sake of family and community. I don’t think there are a lot of people I describe who are highly intellectually curious and don’t see some fatal flaws in the doctrine. But hell, what do I know.  I don’t share my story for those folks. They will be just fine.

I share for the ones like me. Smart, aware, tuned in to reality and themselves enough to question. Intellectually curious enough to say, “heeyyyy what about…”  but for whatever reason not able to break free. Guilt, fear, self doubt. I don’t know. But something is tying them down and if they are like me, they often aren’t even able to articulate their truth and why this is not working for them. I listened to a podcast last week, Jordan Peterson was speaking and one phrase resonated so hard. I scribbled it on my kitchen blackboard. I’m in the zone now so I’m going to  have to paraphrase but it was something like, “The ability to speak your truth will be a bulwark between you and hell”.

Over the years I flirted with leaving the church. I had a handful of periods of inactivity. Once I remember being in the kitchen of friends and just freaking out. “How can you believe this shit?” I raged.  “How can you believe in a God who is a literal terrorist? Who insists that you jump through a thousand hoops, that you participate in all sorts of crazy rituals, that you go to the temple, that you dress in weird clothes and memorize rhymes and riddles and secret handshakes to come into his presence?! And if you can’t keep up, if you can’t do “all that you can do” or hell maybe you just don’t want to…he will take everything you hold most dear and separate you from it? Are you kidding me? He dangles your family, being with your family for eternity in front of you.  THAT. IS. TERRORISM. Do what I say or risk losing your husband and children forever. Does THIS NOT STRIKE YOU PEOPLE AS MESSED UP?”

Everyone in the room told me that I needed to be on meds. They literally did. And I literally got on meds. And stayed on them for years.  I did not need the meds. I needed the ability to speak my truth. Until I did, I was in hell.

And yet. Even after articulating this rage, this fear, this rage from living with this fear, from never being able to keep up, from being so completely exhausted by the cognitive dissonance required for all of it,  I took the dry blue pills. I went back. I kept going back. Even though I couldn’t cut it. I couldn’t do what I was supposed to do. I couldn’t believe what I was supposed to believe. I was always so angry. But I went. Even though I would come home from church every.single.sunday seething. Even though every time my husband and I piled our 5 tired, disgruntled hungry children who had been made to to sit still and “be reverent” for 3 hours while dressed in their sunday best in the van and we drove home screeching at each other every Sunday. Miserable. Resentful. Drained. Even though with the barest examination this clearly wasn’t bring my family closer to each other or to God. I went back. And I took my kids with me.

Ok so here is what. Since  I was a little girl, I sensed I had a specific purpose. It was very clear that I was to help people. To comfort them in some way.  I was so excited to discover that way was. Would I be a Dr? A psychologist? A lawyer fighting for their rights? Over the years I have been a doula, a personal trainer, a motivator…but still I waited for my real purpose so that I could settle into it and give it my all.

Yesterday I went for a really long run and as I ran and thought about conversations I have been having with people who have been reaching out to me lately, it finally became clear. It’s not a big revelation, friends have been trying to tell me this. Family have assured me of it. Here’s what is is. That mission? The purpose?
You’ve been doing it.
You. have. been. doing. it. for years.
I’m a truth teller. I’m an oversharer. This is my job here. We all have a job. Mine is to tell my truth. Nobody else’s.  I speak from my soul, the truth of my experience. I speak to my tribe.

I don’t think of myself as remarkable or unique. There are many of us with this purpose and I might not have anything new to say. I probably don’t. But somebody reading this, might find something that they haven’t read anywhere else which resonates with them. Something which makes them feel understood. Less alone. Less Other. Less of a failure, less of a freak. More emboldened to speak their own truth. To trust their doubts. To trust their faith. To trust their feelings.

Yesterday we were driving to a party. Ella told me about a boy who had pointed out once that he could see her underwear when she was wearing a dress without leggings underneath.
 “It hurt my feelings mommy, and now I don’t like to wear dresses anymore without pants.”
We talked about it.  About other words for hurt feelings. Expanded her vocabularly into words like “embarrassed” and “self conscious” or “uncomfortable” or “defensive” or “exposed.”

 As the conversation wound down I said to her, “the important part is that you always listen to your feelings. Your feelings are real. Your feelings are smart. They might not always be telling you what they seem to be telling you right at first but it’s important to pay attention to them. We can always look at them and try to figure out what they are saying and what to do with them but remember that you have smart feelings.”

I’m going to post this before it gets too long and I overanalyse it to death. It’s going to have typos, the editing has been minimal. I wrote it on a picnic table in the woods fresh from a run before the battery on my ancient laptop ran out. I have so much more to say but I’m starting here.  I feel like I need to post this today and I have smart feelings.

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